When the PSP Go was announced, it caused a stir in the gaming community, as it was the first gaming device (excluding phones) that couldn't use physical media to read games. Instead, digital distribution was the only option given to PSP Go owners, which begs the question, "Will physical media become obsolete and replaced by games that are download-only?" It's a tough question, as services like Steam, XBL, PSN, etc., have become hugely successful, partly due to the sales of down-loadable titles, yet the majority of console games are only commercially available in a disc-based format. If a download-only future is to exist, it's safe to say it won't be for a while.
While digital distribution is popular, there are many people (i.e. kids) who rely on the ability to play games without an internet connection. There aren't many young kids with
Another thing to take into account is the size of games. For those who don't know, most games these days are pretty damn big (usually ranging from 2-15 gigs) and can take ages to download, depending on your internet connection. If the popularity of digital distribution is to increase, then the average internet speed needs to increase as well. Many people (like me) are impatient, and like to play games immediately after they buy them. Think about it. Who wants to spend 50-60 dollars for a game and then say "Yeah! I own <insert game here>! Now I just need to wait 4 hours or so before I can play it!"? Granted, game installs from a disc aren't instantaneous, but they're a hell of a lot faster than downloading the game from a server.
Those past two paragraphs are pretty negative towards digital distribution, and to clarify, I love digital distribution. I myself am a very disorganized person and generally have to sift through my console games in order to find the one I want. Applications like Steam allow me to access all my games from one spot, instead of resorting to a full system search of "some_game.exe". Also, I would hate to think what would happen if the games I bought on Steam were transformed into game cases. Let's not go there.
What I would like to see happen, is what happened with Starcraft II. Allow the user to buy the game disc, install it on their computer, 360, PS3, Wii etc. and then have that game registered to that specific account so you no longer need the disc anymore. The game would be shown on your account and then you could download it from the companies' servers anytime you wanted without having to go Indiana Jones on your desk/shelf/alternate storage device. Of course, what I want and what will happen are generally two very different things. I'm guessing that if my disc/download hybrid idea ever did come to fruition, there would most likely be some sort of fee involved, as bandwidth ain't cheap. I'm not going to go into all the business mumbo jumbo of what would work best and how that particular situation should be handled, but it's something to keep in mind.
So what is the definitive answer to the blog title? Well, there really isn't one. Sorry if that was misleading, but I'm not going to lie to you and say "This is what companies are doing and it will happen at this time". However, I wouldn't say that my ideas are without merit, and maybe some of my hypotheses will turn out right. The answer to the question, "What will happen to digital distribution" rests upon you, the consumer. If more people buy games from Steam, XBL, PSN, Wii Shop Channel, etc., then digital distribution will continue to grow. If not, then it probably won't. It's up to you and everyone else regarding where digital distribution ends up.
So, that's what I've got to say about that matter. If you enjoyed the read, tell me. If you didn't, tell me why. If you have thoughts/opinions about the new age of digital distribution, feel free to share as I enjoy the discussion, but if you want to keep your precious company secrets secret that's fine too. Either way, thanks for reading!